Davis, Reed M.: A Politics of Understanding: The International Thought of Raymond Aron.

Author:Harris, Cristian A.
Position:Book review

Davis, Reed M. A Politics of Understanding: The International Thought of Raymond Aron. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2009. ix + 210 pages. Cloth, $42.50.

Raymond Aron was a prolific writer. His interests covered broad subject areas ranging from philosophy of history to nuclear proliferation. Often included among scholars in the Realist tradition of international relations, his body of work defies easy categorization. In Politics of Understanding, political scientist Reed Davis brings to light the richness of Aron's scholarship by attempting to reconstruct the unity and coherence, which he claims, underlies Aron's work.

The book is organized around four of Aron's works: his doctoral dissertation, Introduction to the Philosophy of History (1948), serves as the basis of analysis of his epistemology; Eighteen Lectures on Industrial Society (1967) of his methodology; Peace and War (1966) of his theory of international relations; and, finally, Clausewitz (1983) of his strategic thought.

Given the complexity and vastness of Aron's terminology, Davis's style is very clear. Following a biography of Aron in the introduction, the author laboriously dissects Aron's theoretical and methodological frameworks. He establishes and reviews the centrality of the works of Max Weber and Edmund Husserl "throughout all of Aron's work" (p. 28). In doing so, Aron rescues the Weberian tension between science (scholarship) and politics (action). This constant tension between two competing demands (necessity and moral conviction, normative imperative and pragmatic compromise, reason and necessity, realism and idealism) is evident in all of Aron's work. Between these positions there is room for compromise.

As one of the finest exponents of the democratic liberal tradition of the European Enlightenment, Aron strove to find (and hold) the middle ground. He believed that basic notions of freedom and respect could only be realized in democracy and the rule of law. However, as Davis so adeptly reveals, Aron was more prone to "imagine" that middle path than to create it. Bound by his ingrained realism and critical perspective, Aron struggled to reach firm conclusions. One finds a constant tension between his rationalism and moral imperatives. Aron hardly claimed that social scientists could tell policymakers what to do. Yet he realized how critical wealth creation was to advanced economies. If a political system is to survive it must resolve critical tensions arising from...

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